News / Middle East

    Yemen Political Experiment Moves Cautiously Forward

    Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi (C) speaks with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani during a ceremony in Sanaa November 19, 2012.
    Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi (C) speaks with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani during a ceremony in Sanaa November 19, 2012.
    In Yemen, like in many Arab Spring countries, the revolution’s center of gravity has shifted from the popular revolts in Sana'a’s Change Square to quiet boardrooms across the capital, where nominally-elected political elites are guiding the beleaguered country through the democratic reform process.
     
    However, in contrast to other revolutionary struggles around the Middle East and North Africa, Yemen's political transition is being driven by an experimental regional and international effort to stabilize the geopolitically sensitive hotspot in the Arabian Peninsula.

    Beginning with the November 2011 transfer of power from former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to his longtime second-in-command Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi, the Saudi-brokered, U.S. and UN-backed Gulf country initiative has achieved progress toward its stated goals of restructuring the military and government in preparation for multiparty elections in early 2014.

    The progress includes several rounds of presidential decrees removing or demoting former President Saleh's relatives and loyalists from top military and government posts. 

    High expectations
     
    Yet many worry that these early victories could be wiped away if the impending National Dialogue Conference (NDC), originally scheduled to begin mid-November, fails to meet its high aims. 
     
    Head of the preparatory committee for Yemen's National Dialogue Conference, Abdul-Kareem al-Eriani addresses a news conference in Sanaa November 17, 2012.Head of the preparatory committee for Yemen's National Dialogue Conference, Abdul-Kareem al-Eriani addresses a news conference in Sanaa November 17, 2012.
    x
    Head of the preparatory committee for Yemen's National Dialogue Conference, Abdul-Kareem al-Eriani addresses a news conference in Sanaa November 17, 2012.
    Head of the preparatory committee for Yemen's National Dialogue Conference, Abdul-Kareem al-Eriani addresses a news conference in Sanaa November 17, 2012.
    The NDC, now slated to begin in December, will convene Yemen’s diverse political landscape for six months of discussions aimed at drafting a new constitution and preserving the unity of the state. Preparations for the dialogue have been underway since mid-year, when the president tasked a 25-person “preparatory committee” with deciding the structure of the conference.
     
    The committee membership spans three generations and is made up of representatives from nearly all major interest groups in Yemen. Participants say they are fully aware of the magnitude of their work.
     
    Committee member Dr. Ahmed Bin-Mubarak, the Director of the Center of Business Administration at Sana’a University, said, "In all our history, we never had such opportunity to sit together for months." 
     
    Many Yemenis welcome the NDC because it represents a break from Sana'a’s elite-driven political process, marking the first time such an inclusive spectrum of representatives will come face to face to discuss issues affecting daily life.
     
    Mubarak’s fellow committee member, Saleh al-Sayadi, secretary general of People’s Democratic Party, said, “Yemenis don't have a choice other than the dialogue," citing civil war as a looming alternative.

    The preparatory committee’s many delays are a reflection of the daunting endeavor they have embarked on. Some members blame missed deadlines on the two major Islamic holidays that have interrupted scheduled meetings. Mubarak adds that he was surprised to find that topics of discussion he “expected to take one day, took two weeks.”
     
    Representatives on the preparatory committee said that all they have left to do is decide on the allocation of the 565 NDC seats – no small chore – before submitting their report to President Hadi, who will officially announce the start date for the dialogue.
     
    Once that happens, the real work begins. National and international leaders will focus their efforts on lobbying two political blocs whose particpation could determine the success or failure of the dialogue and, by extension, the Gulf initiative’s vision of a unified Yemeni state.

    Southern question
     
    The so-called “southern question” is considered by many to be the greatest challenge. In only five years, the Southern Movement or Hirak, based out of the southern port city of Aden, has transformed itself from a simple alliance of disgruntled workers from the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) into a formidable, although divided, political bloc whose more radical elements are calling for nothing short of secession from the “northern” government in Sanaa. 
     
    Internal divisions among southerners in general has been a sensitive topic for both the committee and the Yemeni population at large. Although it is an ongoing debate, many agree with Sayadi that “Hirak doesn't represent all the south, and the south is not all Hiraki," a reality that makes designating southern representatives to the NDC a potentially explosive subject.
     
    The preparatory committee recently addressed that issue by announcing that 50-percent of seats will be reserved for southerners, in an apparent concession to lure Hirakis to the negotiation table. But because members of parties other than Hirak can also be considered southerners, even if they do not agree with the movement’s objectives, the last-minute effort may fall flat. Hirak’s participation in the dialogue remains up in the air.
     
    Beyond issues of representation in the NDC, Mubarak says that there also needs to be “on the ground” changes in order for Hirak to participate. He feels President Hadi must send a clear signal, possibly through executive decrees resolving land disputes or reinstating pensions, that northern policy towards the south is shifting. Without these changes, he argues, Hirak’s participation is unlikely because doing so would amount to Hirak “burn[ing] themselves” in the eyes of their supporters.

    Northern challenge
     
    "The rebellious Shi'ite Huthi movement, based in northern Yemen along the Saudi border, has flooded Sana'a with its provocative slogan, 'Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse upon the Jews, Victory to Islam.'" (C. Coombs for VOA)"The rebellious Shi'ite Huthi movement, based in northern Yemen along the Saudi border, has flooded Sana'a with its provocative slogan, 'Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse upon the Jews, Victory to Islam.'" (C. Coombs for VOA)
    x
    "The rebellious Shi'ite Huthi movement, based in northern Yemen along the Saudi border, has flooded Sana'a with its provocative slogan, 'Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse upon the Jews, Victory to Islam.'" (C. Coombs for VOA)
    "The rebellious Shi'ite Huthi movement, based in northern Yemen along the Saudi border, has flooded Sana'a with its provocative slogan, 'Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse upon the Jews, Victory to Islam.'" (C. Coombs for VOA)
    The other major obstacle to the plan for a unified Yemen lies north of the capital in Saada governorate, which borders Saudi Arabia. There, a Zaidi Shi’ite movement, known as Al-Huthi, has been beating back government forces for control of the territory for most of the past decade.
     
    Last year’s anti-government revolts created an opening for the rebels not only to solidify their stronghold in Saada but to expand southward into the capital. 
     
    Both Mubarak and Sayadi feel the Huthis have been surprisingly cooperative in NDC preparations up to this point, even arguing that they have been more open to the idea of a “modern civil state” than the country’s dominant political party Islah, composed of tribal and Islamist groups. 
     
    But President Hadi has routinely accused the Huthis of accepting Iranian support aimed at destabilizing the transition process. And the group continues to lambast what it perceives to be American and Saudi meddling in Yemeni affairs. Its caustic slogan, “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse Upon the Jews, Victory to Islam,” has flooded Sana'a since September.  

    Issues such as the U.S. drone attacks against al-Qaida militants are not on the agenda because NDC is focused exclusively on domestic issues.
     
    But other tough questions are facing the NDC, including what role the military will play in the state, and what type of political system the new Yemen will base its constitution on.

    Although the committee has not ruled out the possibility of allowing more than six months for the NDC to tackle these complex issues, Sayadi says that, until now, “there is no interest in postponing or extending the transition period.”
     
    President Hadi, for his part, has insisted that he will relinquish his post in February 2014, in an apparent gesture to his domestic audience and the international community that the days of power grabs in Yemen have given way to the rule of law.

    But a lot could change between now and then. In the meantime, Yemen’s political transition in general and the NDC in particular remain untested experiments in the Arab Spring era.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora